ONE of the moves to help the agriculture industry deal with this summer's drought included opening up conservation land to emergency haying and grazing.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that the move helped free up a record number of acres and provided an estimated $140 million to $200 million in forage for producers facing critical feed shortages.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement Dec. 13 during the national drought forum in Washington, D.C., co-sponsored by numerous federal agencies, governors associations and academic partners.
USDA's Farm Service Agency reported that roughly 2.8 million acres covered under 57,000 Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts utilized the emergency haying and grazing option, compared to just more than 1 million acres in 2011.
The previous record was set in 2005, when producers utilized roughly 1.7 million CRP acres for emergency haying and grazing.
Vilsack also announced a new pilot program administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Kansas and Colorado to remove sediment from ponds to help provide more water for livestock or for irrigation. The pilot program, which is part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), provides an additional conservation option for agricultural producers who face drought-related issues on their operations.
Also, for the current fiscal year, NRCS has made more than $16 million available to farmers and ranchers through EQIP for water conservation, practices and wildlife habitat that have been affected by the drought. Those funds are in addition to more than $27 million provided to farmers and ranchers in 22 states for drought mitigation during fiscal 2012.
In recent months, USDA has partnered with farmers, ranchers, business owners, local governments, colleges, state and federal partners to conduct a series of regional drought workshops. Hundreds of producers met with government officials to discuss needs and the programs available to them.
Vilsack kicked off the first meeting in Nebraska, and additional meetings were held in Colorado, Arkansas and Ohio.
Vilsack noted that, as a result of those regional conferences, USDA is entering into a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Commerce, including the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, to improve sharing of data and expertise, monitoring networks and drought forecasting efforts.